Three Great Cheap is a weekly series from critic Robert Sietsema that seeks to find and popularize New York City’s most interesting and inexpensive food in the five boroughs and beyond. Also consult the compact guide and map 60 Cheap Eats Destinations You Should Know About in NYC.
Fresh Pond Road boasts one of the city’s greatest and least known accumulations of reasonably priced restaurants, bakeries, and food stores. In the middle of the hubbub, not far from the Fresh Pond stop on the elevated M train, lies Little Egypt. The dining room doubles as a grocery store, and the menu is surprisingly vast. After you eat, you may want to pick up some Egyptian fruit juices or sodas, crumbly or rubbery white cheeses, cans of sardines, olives or olive oils, or other packaged goods.
Whether a vegetarian, pescatarian, or carnivore, you can’t go wrong with the food. In the first category is a garlic-laced plate of fava bean stew and a large range of salads and bread dips. In the second, in addition to whole grilled fish, lingers a dish with the euphonious name of samakmak: fish fillets bobbing in tart tomato sauce. Meat lovers go for the flame-grilled lamb kofta kebab or macaroni béchamel, an excellent Egyptian spin on Italian lasagna with rich béchamel sauce instead of cheese. You can’t go wrong with rice pudding for dessert. 66-28 Fresh Pond Rd., between Palmetto and Woodbine streets, Ridgewood
Japanese rice balls as a full meal never quite caught on here, but they did — riding the crest of the gluten-free wave — in Hoboken and Jersey City. On Hoboken’s main drag find Koro Koro, a shoebox of a place with counter and outdoor seating, the former with an engaging panorama to look at as you down your freshly wrapped rice balls. The balls are more like nori sandwiches than orbs, and each day there’s a choice of around 10, including a special or two. Recent choices include miso beef and Thai shrimp, but my favorite lately is the unexpected cochinita pibil (Mexican ground pork in a citrus-scotch bonnet sauce), which suggests an entire school of Yucatecan-Japanese cuisine. 201 Washington St., at 2nd Street, Hoboken, New Jersey
Madina Deli Shop
Right across the street from the East Village’s Madina Mosque is this bare bones deli, which offers a small selection of wonderful food at bargain prices. Feast on lamb, chicken, or vegetable curries, or ground chicken kebabs with rice, or consider your snacking options. Foremost are the samosas, which come filled with ground beef or the less-seen vegetarian combo of shredded cabbage and peas (most places around town fill samosas with potatoes), which leave a little residual spiciness after you swallow them, warming the stomach. Served with yogurt raita at your request, and only $1.25 apiece. 402 E. 11th St., between First Avenue and Avenue A, East Village